Resolving the galaxies within a giant Lyα nebula: Witnessing the formation of a galaxy group?

Moire K.M. Prescott, Arjun Dey, Mark Brodwin, Frederic H. Chaffee, Vandana Desai, Peter Eisenhardt, Emeric Le Floc'H, Buell T. Jannuzi, Nobunari Kashikawa, Yuichi Matsuda, B. T. Soifer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Detailed analysis of the substructure of Lyα nebulae can put important constraints on the physical mechanisms at work and the properties of galaxies forming within them. Using high-resolution Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imaging of a Lyα nebula at z 2.656, we have taken a census of the compact galaxies in the vicinity, used optical/near-infrared colors to select system members, and put constraints on the morphology of the spatially extended emission. The system is characterized by (1) a population of compact, low-luminosity (0.1 L*) sources - 17 primarily young, small (Re 1-2kpc), disky galaxies including an obscured active galactic nucleus - that are all substantially offset (≳20kpc) from the line-emitting nebula; (2) the lack of a central galaxy at or near the peak of the Lyα emission; and (3) several nearly coincident, spatially extended emission components - Lyα, He II, and UV continuum - that are extremely smooth. These morphological findings are difficult to reconcile with theoretical models that invoke outflows, cold flows, or resonant scattering, suggesting that while all of these physical phenomena may be occurring, they are not sufficient to explain the powering and large extent of Lyα nebulae. In addition, although the compact galaxies within the system are irrelevant as power sources, the region is significantly overdense relative to the field galaxy population (by at least a factor of four). These observations provide the first estimate of the luminosity function of galaxies within an individual Lyα nebula system and suggest that large Lyα nebulae may be the seeds of galaxy groups or low-mass clusters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number86
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 20 2012


  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: formation
  • galaxies: high-redshift

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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